Tonight’s the Hall of Fame game, followed by the actual Hall of Fame induction on Monday, so maybe now’s as good a time as ever to reflect for a moment on one of this year’s inductees, Herb Brooks.
There’s been volumes written about the influence of the Brooks-led “Miracle on Ice” team that upset the Soviets and won the gold in 1980 (if you’re looking for a excellent account, read Wayne Coffey’s book, “The Boys of Winter”). Some of the praise has been overstated, some of it not emphatic enough.
But maybe the best reflection of Brooks’ impact on hockey can be found on a simple professional roster. The Rangers are currently carrying four U.S. born players (Matt Cullen, Adam Hall, Jed Ortmeyer, and Ryan Hollweg), but in Hartford, there are 10, among them sure-fire prospects Brandon Dubinsky, Al Montoya, and Ryan Callahan (not to mention the likes of Greg Moore and Hugh Jessiman). All of those players grew up playing in the wake of that win, at a time when it suddenly wasn’t absurd for American-born hockey players to harbor hopes of being among the best in the world.
I grew up during that era as well. My older brother had already been playing, so odds are I would have followed him regardless, but there’s no question youth hockey programs were booming in large part because of what Brooks and that 1980 team accomplished.
A number of people around the Rangers, from writers to scouts to coaches, knew Brooks, and had the pleasure of learning from one of the sharpest minds in the game. I never did. The closest I came was in 1992, when I was a high school senior playing in the state hockey final four in Utica, and Brooks was then coaching the AHL Utica Devils. It was hardly an inspired scene: the coach leading a practice in a depressing old minor league rink. We were on next, and I remember watching from the stands.
It’s funny. I’ve seen hundreds of hockey practices over the years, many of them featuring the best players in the game. That’s the only time I can remember that my eyes never left the coach.
No morning skate for the Rangers today as they prepare for the last of their three-game swoop through the Southeastern Conference. So far, so good. The team survived an uneven performance against the Panthers on Wednesday, and last night put together probably its best effort of the year in a 5-2 undressing of the Thrashers. I don’t know who’ll be in net tonight against the Capitals, but I’ll pass it along when I have it.